Recently, GreenSpot’s destination specialist, Mandy Haakenson was interviewed by Pink Pangea (a community for women who love to travel) about travel to Iceland. Read that interview here and be sure to read on for a more in depth look at her Icelandic experience.
While I was in Iceland, one of my guides told me that Icelanders “never let the truth get in the way of a good story”. I love that quote, although I admit to being a little dubious of everything I was told thereafter. The little girl in me adores hearing stories of trolls and elves. Much to my delight, they are abundant in Iceland, and Icelanders tell them with vigor and charm.
I had expected the striking landscapes, wildlife viewing opportunities, volcanoes and geothermal activity. Less expected, but very much appreciated, were the cultural and historical insights I gained by talking to the hospitable Icelandic people. They seem reserved at first, but there is tremendous passion to be found within the 300,000 inhabitants of this Nordic island nation. Finding time to chat, over a cup of steaming coffee or while sipping Brennivín (Icelandic schnapps) is worth your while.
My time in Iceland was full of activities. I took a food tour of Reykjavik, bathed in natural hot springs, dipped in the Blue Lagoon, walked on a glacier, rode an Icelandic horse, hunted for Northern Lights, traveled west to Sneafellsness Peninsula, toured a lava tube, took a jet boat ride, and completed a 3-day trek of the southern interior from Thórsmörk to Skógar.
For most of these activities, a guide in an all-wheel vehicle picked me up. This allowed us to travel over some rugged terrain. One evening, we drove right onto a black sand beach, where we toasted Brennivín at sunset, after dining on delicious local lobster at a seaside restaurant. We were waiting for darkness to arrive, so that we could hunt for northern lights.
An all-terrain bus took us through barren land, where we drove through rushing rivers and bounced over lava fields. Once we reached the middle-of-nowhere, we disembarked and ventured through the woods to a mountain hut. For the next couple of days we hiked through some of the most breathtaking landscape I have ever seen. Although Thórsmörk to Skógar is a popular route, we saw very few people. This is one of the advantages of going in September, when high season is dying down.
There are iconic spots in Iceland that everyone wants to see, but if you wish to avoid crowds, you can venture to the slightly less visited Snæfellsnes Peninsula. With a looming glacier and jagged cliffs bursting with birdlife, this western peninsula is quintessential Iceland. You can visit a farm to help sheer or gather sheep, take a jaunt on a graceful Icelandic horse, bathe in secluded hot springs, or strap on a headlamp and climb down into a lava tube.
If you are willing to sacrifice wide-open space for an abundance of charm and hospitality, I would recommend staying at Hotel Egilsen, in the seaside town of Stykkishólmur. Before you head out to explore, enjoy a delicious homemade breakfast made by the inn’s proprietor, Greta. If the elegance of an old-world hunting lodge is more your style, you may want to book into Hotel Budir. Take time to walk along the craggy cliffs and find the unique black church. Be sure to have dinner at Budir’s renowned restaurant.
Above all, allow the Icelandic people to guide your journey. After all, they know their country the best. They will happily share the legends of this ancient land with you. They also know how to pronounce words like Eyjafjallajökull – and let’s face it, this might come in handy.